The first time I used blogs was the first year I taught AP Literature. It was one piece of one assignment, highly structured, and, to be honest, we didn’t really know what we were doing. That was pretty much it for a while.
Several years later, Brian Sztabnik was looking for readers for his students’ blogs. I volunteered and had a great time responding to his students and looking around to figure out what he was doing. It put blogging back on my radar.
I began to incorporate blogs again, still keeping them one part of one assignment, gradually letting up on the structure (but not too much), and generally favoring group blogs to individual blogs. We had some successes, and I learned a few things. Finally, last year, I decided it was time to try all-year, individual student blogs.
I did have a great help both in making the decision to do this and in implementing it. Through a strange twist of schedule, I ended up seeing my AP Literature students for an extra 30 minutes every day. I was very glad to have this extra time my first year because Friday became blog day, and we used that extra 30 minutes every week to work on our blogs.
I used Edublogs as our chosen platform, mostly because my class website was already housed there. Edublogs is very user-friendly. You can make a very simple blog quite easily, and even if you choose to go fancier, it doesn’t take too long to figure out what to click on. They also have a great support site. Students can customize their blog in a lot of different ways, even without paying for the Pro version, and the set up for postings and pages is formatted like familiar word processors, with many of the same tools. Edublogs is also ad-free, which is a nice feature.
The other feature I like about Edublogs is that I can create student blogs that are linked to my teacher’s blog and all from the comfort of a single dashboard.
One nice thing about doing this (that took me entirely too long to realize the full advantage of) is that when my students post something, it automatically shows up in my reader feed. Over half way through the year, I finally realized that if I kept up with marking the blogs in my grade book as they did them rather than waiting until just before grades were due, I could use the feed to easily see who had posted and when. This kept me from having to click on every individual blog and then scrolling through to check for posts. From the reader, I can see their entire post and make and approve comments without ever having to go to their individual page. It saves a lot of time.
Last year, my students had one standing assignment on their blogs: a reflection post every Friday. I had tried doing weekly reflections on paper, before, but we didn’t do a great job of keeping up with them. Having the dedicated blog time made a definite difference and having their weekly reflections to look at made the quarterly reflection assignment (not digital) more robust because they could actually remember what we had done in class.
I also used the blogs to help them keep track of thoughts for their final project. The only thing they knew about the final project was that they were going to have to answer the question: What is literary merit? I had them do an initial post at the very beginning of the year to record their thoughts, then they added pieces after each major novel and independent read we did throughout the year. These pieces were important in helping them to put together the final product.
The blogs also became a place for responding to books throughout the year (for some reason dialectical journals weren’t nearly as groan-inducing when they had to be done on the blog), and we connected with two classes in other states to swap comments on poetry analyses.
Overall, the blogs were a success, but now I am looking ahead to this year.
- Unfortunately, I won’t have that extra 30 minutes again, so my biggest consideration is how blogging will fit into the weekly schedule. I believe the greatest success with the blogs came out of the consistency of posting. I wish I could tell you I have it all worked out, but the truth is, I’m still pondering over this one.
- I’m going to assign “blog buddies” this year. My basic plan is that there is one other person in the class assigned to check and comment on your blog, probably every other week. One of our biggest problems was that, even though I provided time in class to complete the blogs, students frequently got behind due to absences and, well, general laziness. I’m hoping having a blog buddy constantly checking will promote less procrastination.
- I’m going to spend more time at the beginning of the year having discussions about what makes a good blog post, especially a good reflection, and what makes a good comment. I saved a few posts and comments from last year’s blogs to start the conversation.
- Related to that point, I want to do a better job this year of promoting good posts. At the beginning of last year, I did a pretty good job of tweeting shout-outs to good posts. I even had a Credly badge to send when they had written a “shareable post,” but, as usual, I got busy with other things and my efforts fell by the wayside. I’m thinking of “requiring” myself to find at least one good post to share every other week. Perhaps with a schedule, I can stick with it longer.
- We will definitely be connecting up with other classes again this year. It’s already been under discussion on the AP Lit Voxer group. Giving my students a true outside audience was valuable, as was giving them the opportunity to practice giving good feedback on the work of their peers.
- We only tried one small addition of media last year. Because my students were posting an analysis of their Poetry Out Loud competition pieces, I had them record a reading of their poem for inclusion in the post. This year, I want to find other ways of assigning media inclusion, but I also want to encourage them to find ways of using media to make their postings better reflect their individual voice.
- Directly related to the last point, I want to back off a bit this year (just a bit, for now) and allow a little more freedom in posting. Though I still want to see good grammar and mechanics along with deep analysis, I want it to feel slightly less like an assignment and something they just do because they have to. I want them to feel comfortable posting things besides the assigned postings, so long as it’s all related to the class.
- I’m also pondering over the grading aspect of the blogs. I have long heard the advice to have my students write more than I can read, and the blogs were definitely that. I tended to give “participation” grades – “Yay! You posted something! You get 10 points.” This year, I am considering having them submit their best three posts, once at midterm and once at the end of the nine weeks. This way it is up to them to decide which ones are their best work, and I don’t feel obligated to check every single post. I may even divide it into categories – your one best reflection post, your one best analysis post, your one best comment – or something like that.
I’m looking forward to trying blogging again this year. Though we didn’t do everything perfectly last year, I think the experience was worth it. I’m excited to see what new things we can do this year! I hope you’ll take up the challenge of blogging with your students, too.
Tia Miller teaches at Chapmanville Regional High School in Logan County, WV. She also serves as English department chair and is currently working on her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction at Marshall University.